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EPA loosening hazmat regulations to ease Takata airbag inflator disposal

Roadshow logo Roadshow 11/15/2018 Andrew Krok
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Automakers are nowhere near done replacing every faulty Takata airbag inflator out there, but in order to move the process along, the EPA wants to ease hazardous waste regulations.

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The EPA announced this week that it has implemented an interim final rule changing how dealerships, salvage vendors and other businesses in the industry handle Takata airbag inflators and other non-Takata airbag components. The goal of the interim final rule is to make it easier for these entities to dispose of the parts in question, which will hopefully improve the rate at which these defective parts are replaced.

"Today's action will help auto dealers and scrap recyclers across the country protect public health and properly dispose of these defective airbags inflators," said Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the EPA, in a statement. "By streamlining these requirements, we can help get these dangerous airbags out of vehicles quickly and safely while reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses."

No, this doesn't mean that dealers will start throwing chemical-laden airbag parts into the garbage -- in fact, that's exactly what this rule is trying to avoid. According to the prepublication version of the interim final rule, instead of having these businesses attempt to comply with the hazardous-waste portions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, entities can instead send their parts to an RCRA-designated facility, which will handle the regulatory burdens involved in the safe disposal of these components.

"EPA has learned that imposing full generator requirements on automobile dealers and salvage vendors who lack the expertise and experience in managing hazardous waste would result in the slowdown, rather than the necessary acceleration, of the recall effort, resulting in even greater harm to human health and the environment," the interim final rule states.

a person standing next to a car: Takata has issued recalls for 34 million airbags© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Takata has issued recalls for 34 million airbags

The EPA's rule points out that Takata's faulty airbag inflators are still installed in many vehicles across the country, and they continue to claim lives both in the US and abroad. Thus, it's of extreme importance that dealers do everything they can to swap in replacement parts quickly, but without cutting corners -- dumping hazardous parts into the municipal waste stream just puts the problem somewhere else.

So, why didn't this happen sooner? According to Reuters, dealers and businesses were sending the bunk Takata parts to a Takata warehouse for long-term storage until recently, when they were permitted to send the parts for disposal instead. That's why the EPA jumped in just now.

Takata got into this mess because it wanted to save a few bucks. In doing so, it removed a key component from its airbag inflators. Lacking any sort of desiccant, the airbag inflators could fail after being exposed to high humidity and temperatures -- if that happened, the inflator would throw shrapnel into the cabin instead of inflating the airbag as it should.

More than a dozen individuals have died in the US as a result of Takata's faulty components. The company filed for bankruptcy and sold its assets to the supplier Key Safety Systems in April. Approximately 70 million potentially faulty Takata inflators were installed in vehicles in the US, and the latest data suggests that some 15.8 million bad inflators are still installed in US vehicles.

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This was originally published on Roadshow.

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